Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ruin of a Soviet Space Shuttle

My space flight debating friends will like this Deutsch Welle article about the prototype of a Soviet shuttle that was found in Bahrain.

Invisible Couples

How have people in Massachusetts reacted to married same-sex couples? Johno observes that they do not really give a damn:
Massachusetts is a part-Catholic part post-Puritan, blue-collar state with a large population of recent Latino immigrants and a traditionalist streak a mile wide. In short, most of the state falls into the general category of "people who might really hate this gay marriage thing." And yet, it's here, they're queer, and from what I can see everyone is, in fact, used to it. Outside your fire 'n' brimstone pulpit parties where I'm sure the issue still surfaces any time a preacher needs some shorthand for "worldly depravity," nobody freaking cares. Non-issue. Whoopeedeedoo.

I agree completely. I live in near some of the largest populations of homosexuals, and I don't get the sense that their presence undermines the public's sense of what marriage means. In fact, there is nothing public about same-sex marriages. They are not obvious or distinct. A friend noted to me that many of the couples have embraced marriage in ways that aside from gender, could be described as traditional. These few married couples have a streak of traditionalism, affirming marital roles while expanding them to include themselves. Many of the couples no longer call each other partners and refer to each other as husbands and wives

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Barbarians in the Senate

I have been looking over the Ancient History Sourcebook all afternoon. I have been writing an outline for a syllabus on ancient civilization. The Internet History Sourcebooks is a free resource that links to primary documents and informational sites relevant to teaching Western Civ. Although arduous, the documents in the sourcebook can be exotic and striking.

This fragment from Tacitus' Annals caught my attention. It deals with the entry of barbarian leaders into the Roman Senate. By the time of the principate Rome had undergone extensive geographical growth, but it was faced with a dilemma of what to do with the barbarian peoples. By definition, civilization excluded barbarians--they were incapable of living as part of a polis. Rome could not control the barbarians who had no social or political organization. Romans were faced with the task of assimilating them. Claudius argued before Senate that Rome had a long history of assimilating peoples--even enemies:
What was the ruin of Sparta and Athens, but this, that mighty as they were in war, they spurned from them as aliens those whom they had conquered? Our founder Romulus, on the other hand, was so wise that he fought as enemies and then hailed as fellow-citizens several nations on the very same day. Strangers have reigned over us. That freedmen's sons should be intrusted with public offices is not, as many wrongly think, a sudden innovation, but was a common practice in the old commonwealth. ...

On the whole, if you review all our wars, never has one been finished in a shorter time than that with the Gauls. Thenceforth they have preserved an unbroken and loyal peace. United as they now are with us by manners, education, and intermarriage, let them bring us their gold and their wealth rather than enjoy it in isolation.

Everything, Senators, which we now hold to be of the highest antiquity, was once new. Plebeian magistrates came after patrician; Latin magistrates after plebeian; magistrates of other Italian peoples after Latin. This practice too will establish itself, and what we are this day justifying by precedents, will be itself a precedent.

Rwandans and the African Union in Darfur

The Washington Post has an article about the presence of soldiers of the African Union in Darfur. The ability of the nascent organization to respond is impressive, showing what international organizations can do. What is remarkable about the AU is that the soldiers are Rwandans, many of whom survived the genocide in 1994:
"Every night you go to sleep thinking, 'I could do more. We could do more with a better mandate,' " said Ruzianda, also a Rwandan, whose family fled to Congo during a civil war in his country in the 1990s. "I hate it, to see people living like this. There are some things that remind me of our country when people were fleeing. It can be a shock to see it all again. This time, the only comfort is that at least we are here. At least there is something." ...

The African Union force, created in 2002, is still in its infancy. The union's chairman, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, has appealed for $200 million to buy logistical equipment. The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill providing $75 million for the force.

"We want to go in deep," said Sendegeya, the private, who grew up as a refugee in Burundi during Rwanda's war. Many of his family's friends, who stayed behind, were killed. "As a Rwandan you feel this should be looked at very carefully and there should be goals," said Sendegeya, 32. "My sentiment is emotional if there is a problem."

There are days when there are not enough cars for all of the monitors to go out, and Sendegeya sits in his tent, cleans up the compound and exercises.

But he said he was glad to be here. "You know, it's interesting because in spite of everything, I feel like I am doing something to resolve the conflict," he said.

Ruzianda, his immediate commander, slapped his friend's back and said he understood.

"Even when I complain, I am very happy to be contributing to this, even a little bit," said Ruzianda, who was a member of the military force that stopped the genocide in Rwanda. "It's different for us." ...

Ruzianda smiled weakly and shrugged his shoulders. "This is my wish: never again. And isn't that what we are proclaiming here? So stop being foolish," he said. "Our continent doesn't need this all over again."

Monday, September 27, 2004

Philosemitism and the Founding Fathers

Several weeks ago columnist James Carroll commented on the commemoration of the arrival of the first Jews in the territory that would become the USA:
An alien people comes to an already established national culture, does very well by transforming and inventing aspects of it ...
The problem with this story is that it leaves out that the process of Jewish immigration paralleled the invention of the nation. The refugees from Recife arrived in New Amsterdam to a land that was barely defined, that was hardly homogeneous or unified. It was a place where ideas about toleration and openness in public life were in their infancy.

Carroll attempts to remedy this by associating those Jews with the Dutch religious milieu from which they came. In particular, Carroll references Spinoza as a mediator between Jewish religious values and a society that would have the Jews assimilate. In the process, Spinoza helped to define key principles that would inform American political culture:
The point for us is that his fundamental (and, as this Christian sees it, fundamentally Jewish) idea that human beings participate in the divine, but are not themselves divine (Only G-d is G-d), spawns a political ideal in human rights, one the one hand, and of limited government on the other.
It is hard to argue with Spinoza's credentials. However, it is not clear how Spinoza's ideas could be transmitted religiously (not philosophically) into American culture. Certainly the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam made up the bulk of the early American Jewish community, but I doubt that they were the ones who gave Spinoza to America.

Edward Rothstein, reviewing an exhibition of Jewish culture in the early Americas, offers up Manasseh ben Israel as another figure who might have put a Jewish face on early America. Manasseh ben Israel's collaboration with Rembrandt sparked the imagination of Protestants about Judaism:
Manasseh ben Israel, for example, became a widely respected scholar in Protestant Amsterdam. His book, "The Hope of Israel" (1650), argued that a new age was imminent. The Spanish Inquisition was the last gasp of the old. Now Hebrew and Jewish studies were gaining in prestige; travelers in the New World were reporting that the American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel; moreover, he wrote in amazement, "our Synagogues are found in America." Rembrandt made an etching of Manasseh and illustrated his commentary on Daniel. And Manasseh traveled to England in 1655 to convince Oliver Cromwell to admit Jews for the first time since 1290.
Manasseh's work set off a Philosemitic trend in Protestantism, particularly those related to Messianism:

... Messianic ideas like Manasseh's were accompanied by a renewed general interest in Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible. In the New World some Puritans even advocated following Judaic law and making Hebrew the American language. In a volume of sermons, Increase Mather (who later became president of Harvard) predicted the imminent redemption and "Restoration of the Jews." ...

From the spirit of Judaic Messianism grew many dreams. In 1641 the Pilgrim leader John Cotton proposed a theocratic government based on the laws of the Hebrew Bible. But ... the Hebrew Bible also inspired different visions. Samuel Sewall ... , who was a judge in the Salem witch trials but later repented his role and, in 1700, wrote the first attack on the American slave trade. Roger Williams, the minister in Salem, also broke with Puritan ideas, arguing that there should be a "wall of separation" between church and state. His argument, presented to the English Parliament in 1644, is displayed: he requested a charter for the settlement of Providence, where there would be no "enforced uniformity of religion."

So the origins of America are inseparable from currents of Judaic Messianism.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Graham Greene

October 2 is the centennial of the birth of Graham Greene, the British novelist and essayist whose works provided a glimpse and critique of the fading world of British hegemony (birthplace). His stories are set in far off places and center on British bureaucrats and adventurers who pretend that they can remain aloof of local politics, but who are eventually embroiled in political intrigue. Decolonization affects them in later novels. Among his many novels The Quiet American is probably best known because it recently appeared in film. (I am certain that Greene is either loved or reviled on political grounds because of that novel. Despite his portrayal of American idealism in agent Pyle, Greene also criticizes the British realism of journalist Fowler--he is a despicable man whose only advantage over Pyle is that he survives.)

I have been reading The Power and the Glory, a novel set in Revolutionary Mexico that is reputed as "the greatest Catholic novel". It deals with the purge of Catholicism in the southern state Chiapas in the 1930s (religion in Mexico). The state governor pursues the last priest in the territory: a hard drinking, adulterous man who does not deserve to be a hero (or possible martyr), but has been thrust into that role by necessity. He tries to escape Chiapas to safer places, running through isolated plantations and marshes, hunted by the police. Peasants, hungry for religion, stop him so that he will perform masses and other rites, but they inform on him for the reward.

Greene, an active traveler, had just returned from Mexico when he wrote the book. His narrative reflect his arduous journey over the high mountains of Chiapas by mule. It also reflected his encounter with popular Catholicism. Many Britons in the early twentieth century conversion or toyed therewith (CS Lewis being a prime example). Greene's conversion was motivated more by the baroqueness of Catholicism, not by popular faith. In Mexico Greene confronted (and was repulsed by) the popular belief, the need for religious ritual. In the novel religion is presented as a cultural elements, and one character remarks that Chiapas has become a cultural wasteland without the Church.

Despite its reputation as the greatest Catholic novel, its greatness and Catholic-ness were in doubt when the book was published. According to Greene biographer Norman Sherry, the book was ignored when it was first published in 1940. Popular books concerned Germany and the current World War. Indeed, Graham probably stretched out the process of writing the book in order to avoid the draft board.

Furthermore, the Catholic clergy rebuked Greene and warned Catholics away from reading it. French bishops renounced it, at Cardinal Griffin demanded that Greene make revisions. In their opinion, Greene did not show the redeeming qualities of faith, and he focused on the faults of the clergy. Some contemporary critics have even suggested that the novel should be considered anti-Catholic. Years later, Pope Paul VI met Greene, and he admitted that he read and enjoyed The Power and the Glory. When Greene told the Pope about the criticism he received from the bishops, Paul VI responded:
Mr. Greene, some parts of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should not pat attention to that.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Exploring the Wild Frontier

Several interesting posts that I want to mention dealing with the early American West.

First, Nuno Guerrerio of Rua da Judiaria has a post about the Jewish man who photographed the western frontier for John Charles Frémont called Um Judeu Português no "Faroeste Selvagem" (English Translation: A Portugues Jew in the "Wild West"). Solomon Nune Carvalho was born into a prominent Sephardic family from Charleston whose members had played a prominent role in defining early American Judaism (his father work on liturgical reform, and his uncle was a prominent khazzan). Carvalho established his reputation making daguerrotypes in Baltimore. He was hired by Frémont to photograph the people and landscapes of the West, establishing a visual record of the path that the railway would take from the Mississippi River. According to Nuno,
On various occasions for lack of provisions Nunes Carvalho was obligated to break from strict Jewish dietary rules. In the harsh winter of Colorado during a weeklong haze the explorers were obliged to eat one of their mules.

Second, Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has several interesting posts. One deals with with the origins of the dividing line between north and south in California, a division that affects contemporary politics:
The sense of division between northern and southern California was evident as early as the period of Mexican control that lasted from the 1820s to 1846 ... Pitt describes the north-south split in his classic study “The Decline of the Californios,” a key text for my book project (looking at some historical connections between Southern and Western states):
Regionalism polarized around Monterey, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, although the later town, often caught in a cross fire, remained indifferent and confused. After the capital had been moved from Monterey to Los Angeles in 1835, each passing year intensified the rivalry until, in 1845, abajeños (southerners) and arribeños (northerners) were ready for open warfare.

No matter what Alvarado or Castro wanted for Monterey, Pio Pico and others spitefully demanded the opposite for Los Angeles; when northerners spoke of stronger ties with Mexico, southerners espoused greater independence. …

In another post, Geitner points to an encyclopedia entry that describes the connection between the landscape of the Great Plains and regional identity:
Flatness — Only one-twentieth of the Great Plains’s surface is flat, yet flatness has long been an important component of the region’s image. ... By the late nineteenth century, eminent scientists felt it necessary to correct the regionwide image. Richard Hinton, special agent in charge of irrigation for the United States Department of Agriculture, cautioned in 1890 that “it must not be imagined that … the word Plains imply a vast and perfectly level stretch of country.” … Pre-Civil War lobbyists for transcontinental railroads promoted the image [of flatness]. In a petition to Congress, George Wilkes argued in 1846 that “a smooth unbroken plain, leading gradually to the culmination of the [South] Pass,” afforded [an excellent railroad path].
Finally, Peter J. Kastor's The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America explores many issues about how pre-statehood Louisiana complicated social and racial relations in America, and the problems it presented for diplomacy with Spain. Some of Kastor's observations:
  • The new citizens of New Orleans produced a treatise (Remonstrance of the People of Louisiana against the political system adopted by Congress for them, 1804) in which they argued that they were denied individual rights because Louisiana was denied territorial rights explicit in statehood.
  • Slavery was a diplomatic matter: slaves escaped across the ill-defined border with Spanish Texas. American politicians feared that the Spanish government sheltered the runaway slaves in order to destabilized America's hold on the Louisiana Territory. Conversely, Spain saw hunts for runaway slaves as a prelude to further American expansion. Consequently,
    "Slaves, Slaveowners, and public officials on the nation's periphery all made their decisions in the context of international relations."

  • As a Gulf port, New Orleans received refugees from Caribbean rebellions, further complicating the racial composition of early America.
  • Ultimately, Madison could not separate domestic policy from foreign policy when it came to Louisiana. He relied on the city council and other Louisianans to act as diplomats (something which Kastor refers to as local diplomacy.)
Most interestingly, Kastor claims that it was Louisianans who solved many of the complex problems related to citizenship: its courts decided that state citizenship was the equivalent of federal citizenship, allowing the bulk of whites to become Americans. They were no longer an alienated population.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Record of Alzheimer's Disease

I have some reflections on two books that I recently read.

Annie Ernaux recorded her experiences of her mothers' Alzheimer's disease in I remain in darkness. Not really a diary, the book is a collection of notes that Ernaux would eventually use to write a novel about the disease.

The notes cover about two and a half years. Ernaux places her mother in a convalescent hospital as she cannot continually attend to her. Each note references a visit to the hospital, tracking the progress of her degeneration and death.

The mother loses her humanity first: she knows what it means to remain proper, she is unsure how to accomplish it. The mother waits for people to help her groom herself, hiding away until they can, ashamed that she cannot do these things herself. As she becomes worse, she has visits with people who passed away long ago. Eating becomes the only joy--the only thing the mother looks forward to.

Eventually the mother loses her coordination. She cannot manage to get a fork to her mouth. The hospital staff and Ernaux must feed her. When she tries to feed herself, it is obvious that her sense of shame is gone:
[On Easter Sunday] I brought her a chocolate hen. The piece I break off is too big, she can't put the whole thing into her mouth; it slips out, she tries to catch it but clutches her chin instead. ... After that, she kneads a lump of chocolate instead of bringing it to her lips, then makes a few unsuccessful attempts to eat it. By now she is smothered in chocolate. At this point, everything gets out of hand: horror has ceased to matter, it has even become necessary. Go on, spread it all over yourself, make a real mess of it. I can feel anger swelling up inside me, anger than comes straight from my childhood--an impulse to break everything.
The following scene [breaks my heart]: as I bend forward to check the safety catch of my mother's wheelchair, she leans over and kisses my hair. How can I survive that kiss, such love, my mother, my mother.
Obviously, Ernaux becomes both disgusted and guilt-ridden as the disease progresses. These feeling play out whenever Ernaux tries to leave, and the mother expects to go with her:
I try to reach the elevator and get it to start before she catches up with me, before the door slams shut in front of her face. Such distress at seeing her in her present condition.

This is not a pleasant book to read: not just because of the subject matter, but because it is fragmented in its delivery by necessity. The eventual novel, A Woman's Story, is a highly regarded novela.

Patrick Modiano's Out of the Dark is difficult to describe, but it is worth reading. Modiano gained notoriety after May 1968 for his novels that deal with Jewish experiences in France. This book reflects on the indirection and lack of discipline of people in their early twenties and young students. Ignoring his classes and reading great work of philosophy, the narrator hangs out in Parisian cafes with a couple. He become involved with the woman, Jacqueline, who is obsessed with moving to Mallorca.

Without really knowing why, the narrator follows Jacqueline on her quest: he helps her to steal money, he follows her to London, hangs around the people she is trying to scam. He becomes the ultimate follower: his actions don't reflect his desires, he goes where Jacqueline goes.

Second Capital

Some Alsatian politicians got fed up that France does not contribute to the development of its "second capital", Strasbourg.

There are three cities that host major global organizations that are not themselves national capitals. Two of the three receive special attention from their national government to maintain facilities and access. Geneva is receives special funding from Switzerland that is comparable to what Zürich receives; New York City is indirectly supported through the extraordinary support that the US gives to the UN.

Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament and Court, gets nothing from Paris. The city and the surrounding communities have had to foot the bill themselves. Paris, on the other hand, get more than enough to support public transportation and facilities from the national government that the city need barely do anything. The president of the regional council, Adrian Zeller, has proposed making Strasbourg "a national cause" that will force Paris to treat it as a second capital:
We are not asking for the moon. We are realists. But the National Assembly and the senate ought to recognize that France has two capitals, one historic, the other European and emerging. ... It is a noble project to correct the fundamental inequalities between Paris and Strasbourg. (quote from L'Alsace, September 21, 2004)

The proposal is modest: it asks for 45 million Euros in special projects and new oversight, as well as the creation of a national commission that will coordinate development in Strasbourg with respect to the needs of the EU. I suspect that some local politicians hoped that they might steal more power from Brussels.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Tevye the Millionaire

Huzzah! Huzzah! Chip and Kim won the Amazing Race 5! I am overjoyed!

What a great ending to the competition--a truly deserving team won. I was sad to see the bowling moms eliminated, especially without winning any trips along the way. Colin was in his maniacal glory; Christie broke down; Nicole broke down; Brandon told Nicole to walk into the G-d's arms (she wasn't dead yet!). Did Chip deceive you, Nicole? How about pretending you are drowning in the ocean? And something important was finally proved: Kim is more fit than Chip.

I have been thinking about why they won and what made them so likeable. Colin and Christie looked like smart and determined competitors--did Chip and Kim win on luck?

While luck played a part in their success, C/K had other advantages:
  • They were aware of their disadvantages over other teams and tried to plan ahead--notice how they started predicting how different teams would act, especially Colin. Part way through the competition, Chip became the unofficial narrator--his comments were used to describe the other teams more than any others'. This was a reflection of their insights.
  • They managed their losses. Rather than working to stay ahead of the pack, they stayed close, allowing others to become overconfident. They performed favors for others, giving them credit throughout the game.
  • They were affable--they were able to get the natives to do things for them that C/C could not. Why is it that they won nearly every taxi race?
  • They showed their strength as a couple: they never argued, Kim directed Chip, Chip took the criticism in stride.
  • They were calm--they looked around, they found opportunities.
What made them likeable was Chip's personality. He reminded me of Tevye the Dairyman, a character developed by Scholem Aleichem (who is more familiar as the lead character of Fiddler on the Roof). Chip is an old-fashioned man with old-fashioned ideas who struggles to understand the world around. Kim is a strong wife from whom he gets direction and clarity. He talks to G-d, asking for strength. He worries about the morality of his actions. He also talks a lot of trash, and he knows it. Kim let him run at the mouth (on like Donkey Kong?), but reigned him in when it came to strategy.

Two final notes. First, I was amused that problems with American Airlines and travel regulations have C/K a small lead in the race. Second, the tepee challenge was cut from the episode. However, pictures are shown at the CBS website (along with a clue search in a tourist shop(?)).

Chabon invades Yiddishland!

Rutgers Professor Jeffrey Shandler wrote an interesting article about how the Yiddish language invokes the existence of an imaginary homeland ("Imagining Yiddishland: Language, Place and Memory" in History and Memory (2003)). Even though it belongs to no nation-state, Yiddish constitutes a community that longs for a nation and that overlays its own interpretations over everyday life and locality. Shandler argues that the act of speaking in Yiddish creates an artifice that a real country of soverign Yiddish speakers exists. This has become a more pronounced tendency after the Holocaust: the memories of a lost Yiddish society and culture do not correspond to a real territory of Jews.

Shandler starts off his essay with a bizarre episode in contemporary literature. Author Michael Chabon set off a firestorm when he wrote an article that mocked the idea of a "Yiddishland":
[The book] Say It in Yiddish became the subject of some controversy, when author Michael Chabon discussed it in an essay that appeared in 1997 ... . In his essay, originally titled "Guidebook to a Land of Ghosts," Chabon both mocks and mourns Say It in Yiddish, which he introduces as "the saddest book that I own" and characterizes as a "tragic joke," an "absurd, poignant artifact of a country that never was." Unaware of a potential audience for this volume, whether in the 1950s or today, he tries in vain to conjure imaginary environments in which a traveler might talk to an auto mechanic, dentist or hair dresser in Yiddish. Similar fantasies are presented in accompanying illustrations by cartoonist Ben Katchor, showing invented urban scenes with a telephone booth, cinema, bus, ferry and factory, all sporting signs in Yiddish. "This country of the Weinreichs [the authors] is in the nature of a wistful fantasyland," Chabon argues, a contrafactual Europe where "the millions of Jews who were never killed produced grandchildren, and great grandchildren." Finding this vision "heartbreakingly implausible," he wonders, "Just what am I supposed to do with this book?

Chabon did not research the history of Say It in Yiddish; had he done so, he would have learned that it was created not at the Weinreichs' own initiative but at the request of Dover Publications' founder and president, Hayward Cirker. Cirker envisioned the phrase book, in part, as being of practical value—Yiddish was widely spoken in Israel in the late 1950s, and there were substantial Yiddish-speaking communities in Paris, Montreal, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and other places where someone who knew only English might find the volume useful. Moreover, Beatrice Weinreich recalls, Cirker regarded Say It in Yiddish as a symbolic gesture of his devotion to a language that he had learned as a child at home and in secular Yiddishist schools run by the Workmen's Circle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Another "Two Americas"?

Does Ferndinand Tonnies’ model of society—that there exists a division between Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, community and society—still apply? Is there opposition between genuine communities that are close to the land and the universality of the metropolis?

Tonnies’s social theory claimed that Gemeinschaften (the rural milieu of villages and towns) remained connected to the land and to each other in ways that were historical and natural. Remaining so close to the land, Gemeinschaften preserved the culture of the nation. Gesellschaften (cities and urban areas) were artificial communities composed of immigrants and men of the world; they created civilization that introduced foreign elements into culture. Of course, Tonnies idealized quite a bit—tightly knit communities formed in the middle of cities, and villages were closely associated with cities. In principle, the dichotomy between the two forms of settlement have has been well established.

Kevin Drum points to an article in the Austin American Statesman that examines the political dichotomy between the urban and rural worlds in the US. They analyze the results from presidential elections on a county-by-county basis. Their results show that counties are taking on distinct political identities, becoming either largely Republican or largely Democrat. More importantly, this analysis shows that rural areas are becoming more Republican while urban areas are becoming more Democrat: the population of Republican-dominated counties is significantly smaller than the population of Democrat-dominated counties.

The results are not surprising: stereotypes pretend that all the Homeland-loving Americans are rural Republicans, while all the Republic-loving Americans are urban Democrats. These stereotypes aren’t even American: in France and Germany, the religious right has been associated with peasantry while the liberal left clung to the urban intellectuals.

There are some problems with the survey: counties are not a good basis for comparison. They are not expressions of community per se, but units created by the states for their own administrative convenience. Furthermore, counties in America vary in size: Texas counties are Lilliputian, but California counties are larger (in both population and area) than other states. The problem is revealed in comparing Los Angeles County to neighboring Orange County. On the one hand, the article claims that Republicans still find the majority of their votes in Democrat-dominated LA County. On the other, Kevin Drum points out that Conservative powerhouse Orange County does not rank as one of the most Republican counties in the country.

To get back to the question that I originally posed, are the differences between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft still meaningful? There is a tidbit in the article that points in a different direction:

… since the late 1970s, Democrats and Republicans have been segregating, as people sift themselves into more politically homogeneous communities.
Mobility, rather than community, may be at the root of these political shifts.

Are people who are moving to rural areas more politically conservative? Is it possible that the choice of community is driven by political identity?

I must hold back on answering: the study does not give the data necessary to answer this. America is not divided into two distinct parts. John Friedmann (in Prospect of Cities (Minnesota, 2002)) points out that the urban/rural division has become meaningless. Between transportation and information, the two have become more alike. Cities have become less centralized, and towns have access to almost anything found in the city via warehouse stores and online shopping. So many middling types of communities have emerged that must be distinguished as well: planned communities, suburbs, edge cities, de-industrialized towns. Are people who flee the city to the suburbs connected to the land and the community? Some social scientists suggest that the answer is a partial yes. Simply, the different milieu are overlapping one another, and it is difficult to distinguish between them.

I think that overlapping extends to the realm of politics as well. Republicans fundraise in New York City; Democrats search for legitimacy in the country. Blurring can even be represented in the two candidates. There is little distance between George Bush and John Kerry when you look at their origins. Bush—who presents himself as a man of the soil—is actually an urban refugee, an example of the flight from the cities. Kerry—who is painted as a cosmopolitan New Englander—is really a townie, a Bostonian whose worldview is highly localized (he claimed that Springfield, MA was out by the New York border-ha!). Both men carry Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft inside themselves.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Race on its last legs!

With about twenty four hours left before the finale, here are my thoughts about the Amazing Race. I have spent some time mulling over the spoilers and information gained through unseemly means, and there is not much out there to prove who will win. This is what has been said about the final legs of the race:
  • The main story will probably be about whether Colin can destroy Chip. The sense of betrayal felt by team high strung (Colin and Christie) is unwarranted. Chip yielded them, which is part of the game. As far as I can tell, Colin never gave Chip--or anyone else--any help. The short-lived alliance at the Cairo airport was a fiasco. If memory serves me, Chip helped Colin and Christie in minor ways.
  • One team will be eliminated mid-way through the two hour episode. You can figure out who had been cut and who will remain by looking at the photos taken in Banff.
  • A gossip reporter at E! online claims that one of the teams from this season was chosen to represent the show at the Emmy Awards.
  • Before the season started, the producers claimed that the winner was a surprise. This statement is so vague and oblique that it could mean anything. Of the four teams left, I think that the only legitimate surprise would be if the Bowling Moms won (which would be cool). The other three (Chip/Kim, Christians, and High Strung) have all been strong teams at some point, all ruthless in some way, and I would not be surprised if any of them won. It is more likely that the producers were taken aback by a team that they thought would be eliminated early in the race: the Bowling Moms or Chip/Kim. Another possibility is that something happens in the last episode that makes it seem that one team will be far behind, but wins anyway. Again, the nature of the surprise is vague.
  • One person, looking at the narrative, suggests that the whole season has been written around the redemption of Chip (man trying to find his way through a morally confusing world), and Chip must win in order to complete the journey. This is interesting, but thin.
  • Finally, some have wondered whether the title of the episode is a clue: "You have made me a millionaire." I think that the explanation is a stretch, but here it goes: because of the rules, only two people could say this--Chip or Kim. The members of the other teams would split the $1 million prize; only the married couple would win the entirety of the prize. Yes, anyone can say anything in a moment of joy. Colin and Christie might be close to marriage, but I would find it difficult to hear those words coming from Colin, a business owner who probably has $1 million in capital.
  • The finish I hope for: Chip/Kim, Bowling Moms, Christians, Colin/Christie (take out team that is not in Banff).
Enough thoughts about this for now. Enjoy the finale. Get a good bottle of wine. We might open a bottle of rosé we got from Temecula.

An Episode from the Ruhr Crisis

Archival work is fast and thoughtless. One simply writes without pause until there is enough of a document to makes sense of it. Looking over my notes, I realized that I recorded things that I will not need.

The Ruhr Crisis was just getting under way in January 1923. The coal magnates of the Ruhr Valley refused reforms of the tax code that would allow Germany to make war reparations, so Germany had no choice but not pay. In retaliation, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr Valley. Poincaré hoped to take what was owed to France directly from the German factories. Instead, the workers refused to work–a onetime synthesis of nationalist politics and labor unions.

In the midst of these affairs, several French travelers tried to return home from France on January 31. French train engineer André Lafont and his wife escorted two seniors, Isabelle Bucher and Madeleine Leseur, back from Speyer in the Moselle Valley. At 7 pm the train pulled into the small community of Rheinzabern in the Pfalz. According to Lafont’s report to French officials in Wissembourg, “several [perhaps as many as six] provocative young men” entered their train car. Hearing the group speak French, the young men took Lafont’s cane and beat him with it. They yelled at the women, preventing them from standing with force. They also broke the windows and robbed the travelers. Three hundred people who were standing on the platform approved of the attack–some of them sang “Deutschland über alles”. Leseur was able to leave the train and find station officials. However, they refused to intervene even as the assailants vandalized the train car. Eventually, the young men descended the train, and the travelers were left on the train as it drove away.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Separatism and the War on Terror

A while back I blogged about Xinjiang, an autonomous region of China. Xinjiang is on the westernmost part of China, putting it next door to the "-Stans" (Muslim republics that broke away from the Soviet Union). The population is largely Muslim (called Uighurs), and separatist groups have taken inspiration from the "-Stans" and have pushed for independence. China has tried to develop Xinjiang in order to encourage loyalty. However, Beijing is also trying to subdue separatists through a number of initiatives. They have tried to draw the Muslim republics into China's sphere of influence, allowing them to join the "Shanghai Five". Futhermore, China has worked to label the separatists as terrorists, thus enlisting the help of the US and allowing them freedom to combat separatism. According to the analysis of ISN, China's "war on terror" also fits into its long term plans to dominate Central Asia and to draw closer to Pakistan, one of Asia's three (or more) nuclear powers.
China's anxiety over the Xinjiang region was more in line with the interests of the Central Asian states, and Beijing was able to use this convergence of concerns to increase its regional profile. In June 2001, Uzbekistan was admitted to the Shanghai Five, which then evolved into a permanent group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.). The coalition worked to prevent Kazakh and Uighur separatists from using Asian states as a safety zone to plot separatist activities, and it established an anti-terrorist center in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where the member states could better coordinate their efforts. ...

After11 September 2001, Washington's priorities quickly changed in Central Asia, as fighting Islamic terrorist networks tied to al-Qaida became a top priority. The US established bilateral agreements with the member states of the SCO ... . Beijing began to worry that its "strategic competitor" was pursuing a long-term strategy to contain or encircle China's activities on its western border. In this new environment, China tried to link its efforts to suppress the Uighur separatists to Washington's "war on terrorism" as a means of engaging the Bush administration with the hopes of maintaining its prominent role in Central Asia. On 12 October 2001, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, "We hope that our fight against the East Turkestan [Xinjiang] forces will become part of the international effort against terrorism."

Washington dismissed the ties between Uighur separatists and al-Qaida in an effort to isolate China's interests from those of the other SCO members. In October 2001, President Bush said that China should not attempt to use the "war on terrorism" as an "excuse to persecute minorities". However, since the US reengagement of the region, Beijing and Washington have established closer ties, largely for economic reasons, and the Bush administration gradually allowed its interests to shift towards those of China in return for cooperation on intelligence and anti-terror initiatives. Some analysts believe that Beijing is cooperating to gain concessions on Taiwan, Tibet and the Xinjiang region. ...

This new relationship with China has increased the importance for Washington to distinguish between violent militant groups and peaceful independence movements. It is in Washington's interests to root out those groups that have a history of cooperation with terrorist organizations outside of China's borders, but it is also important that peaceful independence movements are given tacit backing from Washington. This maintains pressure on China for concessions on human rights issues important to Washington, as well as weakening China's control of its periphery regions - a strategic importance should a conflict occur between the two states in the long term. Beijing has received Washington's cooperation in dismantling groups such as the United Revolutionary Front of Eastern Turkestan ...; the Wolves of Lop Nor ...; and the Uighur Liberation Organization, where the group's dispersion throughout Central Asia has allowed it to assassinate Uighurs viewed to be cooperating with the government of China. However, other groups, such as the East Turkestan National Congress and the Regional Uighur Organization, have received tacit and financial support from Washington. The Uighur American Association was the recipient of a grant from the US-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy - a first for a Uighur exile group.

Will Beijing avoid Athens' construction headache?

As part of Beijing’s preparations to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Chinese government went on a spree: it hired high profile “starchitects” known for their design innovations that pushed novelty rather than livability. These foreign architects won bids over established Chinese architects and went about remaking the major institutions of the city and state, like the national theater and the national television broadcasting company.

Beiing planners are rethinking these building projects. Early this year the Chinese became alarmed by the collapse of a terminal at de Gaulle airport, a project designed by Andreu, the architect who designed the national theater. The emerging complex was already seen as an eyesore, but the safety of the space and its usability became an issue. Now, Beijing wants to avoid the construction headache that Athens faced: lengthy construction time that will litter the city with cranes and high costs.

Many of these projects have been halted
. The national theater will be built on schedule, but the television tower has been halted. The Olympic stadium has come under review for safety and cost. And it appears that there is a change of heart in China concerning the value or contemporary design.

The theater's construction was too far along for major design changes, but before long the CCTV tower had fallen into a kind of political limbo, with its groundbreaking delayed for a second time. There were [rumors] that it had been canceled outright. In August the government said it was halting construction on the Olympic stadium so that it could be re-conceived at a significantly lower budget.

September has brought more of the same. ... the government was weighing a plan to scrap as many as half the new venues for the Summer Games. ... the National Museum of China announced it was giving the job of expanding its building ... to a collaborating group of architects from the China Academy of Building Research and the German firm von Gerkan, Marg & Partners. The winning team beat out two other finalists — Foster& Partners and the United States firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox — that had proposed more aggressively contemporary schemes. Architects and critics in China, who had been watching the competition closely, took the results as fresh confirmation that the government was moving further away from the architectural forefront. [emphasis mine]

"There is now a real debate going on about these big projects — whether it's appropriate to be spending so much money on them, and hiring foreign architects instead of Chinese," said Yan Huang, who led the planning and construction side of Beijing's Olympic bid. ...

"I think the really daring designs, especially public ones, will be more difficult to get built now," said Leon Yang, general manager of the Urban Planning Design and Research Company. ...

The controversy over the starchitechts and their visions for Beijing has set off broader debates in China about planning and construction. Criticism focuses on safety, but the larger debate concerns the costs of the projects and the way in which they were conceived. Chinese academics have criticized the government for hiring only the big names rather than scrutinizing their designs or considering the works of talented Chinese architects. Furthermore, there is concern that planning has been infected by too much modern design aesthetics.

"O.K., so there is a desire to reduce the budget for the Olympic Games," said Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and architect who collaborated with the Swiss architects on the stadium. "Fine — there's no shame there. Be realistic. But don't use it as an excuse to criticize Western architects. Don't say they don't understand safety or construction technology." He went on to say: "The engineer on the stadium is Arup," a leading engineering firm that works frequently with prominent European architects. "They are the best in the world at what they do. These complaints are pure nationalism." ...

Another theory is that the officials who originally chose high-profile foreign architects were more focused on their celebrity than on the experimental nature of their work. [emphasis mine] "I had people come to me," said Yung Ho Chang, a Chinese architect who studied and taught in the United States and returned to Beijing ..., "and ask: `Who are the very best architects in the United States and Europe? Who are the most famous?' When they hired these name architects, I don't think they really understood what they were getting. I don't think they understand that Rem, for example, was going to push the envelope as much as he did."

Ironically, these new buildings with their high-end Western aesthetics look odd surrounded by the hastily, poorly conceived and poorly constructed buildings:
For every Zaha Hadid tower in the works for the capital, there are hundreds of forgettably mediocre buildings already in place, displaying the sort of mirrored-glass facades and gilded decoration that went out of style in America sometime in the 1980's. Often, they're topped with a half-hearted nod to pagoda design or some other Eastern ornament — the architectural equivalent, the Beijing-based curator Huang Du noted in a recent essay, of Western men wearing Chinese hats.

A few pieces of this new architecture stand out for their aggressive awfulness. To pay tribute to those buildings, a group of young Americans in Beijing are launching a Web site,

"There's been so much interest in high-design architecture in China lately, but it almost seems like a joke because there's this endless amount of bad stuff going up," said Jeremy Wingfield ... .

You can check out these eyesores in Beijing at BadJianZhu.

[Update 9/22:] John Massengale, who has a real opinion on architecture (not just an historian's amateur opinion) discusses the same articles, pointing out the problems with the specific architects that are working in Beijing. But he also notes that the article compounds the problem of the reputation of avant-garde architects by giving unwarranted attention to their designs. His final thought:
It's all very strange. And we haven't even talked about the fact that these buildings are part and parcel of the Chinese drive to industrialism that has them on the road to become the largest consumers of gas and oil in a world of diminishing resources.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

An unloved autonomy part I

This is an outline of the development of Alsatian political culture leading up to the return to France in 1918-1919. While part of Germany (1871-1911), the territories of Alsace and Lorraine were administered by representatives of Berlin as if they were a subject people. Indeed, the appellation Alsace-Lorraine was a short-hand for the more descriptive name: Reichsland—the territories that were jointly administered by all the other German states for their mutual benefit, but not for the Alsatians and Lorrains.

During this period Alsatians focused on two concepts, ‘republic’ and ‘federation’, in order to argue for the creation of a province that would be an expression of popular sovereignty and that would have parity with other German states. In 1911 the Reich gave autonomy to Alsace, something which it did not want.

The republic was an alternative to arbitrary regimes. At the time of annexation, criticism of Napoleon III and Bonapartism was gaining strength—republicanism was becoming more prominent. Under the Second Reich, Alsace-Lorraine was subjected to an appointed official who acted as the Statthalter (representative of the kingdom in the territory). The German imperial house, the Hohenzollerns, wanted to make Alsace-Lorraine part of the family possessions—a territory given to a son who would not become the Kaiser.

Alsatians looked to the republic in order to reject the creation of a ruling house for the territory. Politicians like Emile Wetterle (a Catholic cleric, newspaper publisher, and deputy to the Reichstag (imperial legislature)) kept tabs on the changes in French republicanism and translated them into Alsatian political activism. Pushing for rights for the territories, Alsatian politicians demanded a unicameral legislature elected by popular vote and a ministerial government that was drawn from the legislature. Indeed, Wetterle and other politicians pointed out that republicanism was not incompatible with the politics of the Reich: Hamburg was a republic.

Federalism was also an issue under the French Second Empire. Of course, it is common everywhere for the party that is not in power to argue that the central government has too much authority, and this was certainly the case in France: anti-Bonapartists argued that Paris was too powerful. Federalism was also part of the German constitution. It was the basis for the aggregation of German principalities in the First Reich (Holy Roman Empire). Technically, federalism was also the basis for the Second Reich as well: the empire was made up of kingdoms and duchies that had their own governments and domestic policies. However, Prussia easily dominated: the constitution gave it more votes in the federal council (Bundesrat), and it had more population (more legislators in lower house), a larger economy, a larger army, etc. Simply, Prussia undermined federalism with its power and influence. Furthermore, Prussia controlled all of the federal votes for the Reichsland.

Alsatian politicians hoped both to gain control of their federal votes and to restore the balance between states at minimum by limiting votes on the federal council by weighting states by population. Furthermore, they raised questions about the integrity of Prussia itself as it was not supposed to encompass all the territory that the Hohenzollerns held.

By 1904 Berlin had been convinced that the Alsatian constitution must be reformed, and that the status of the Reichsland must be changed. Alsatian politicians took this as an opportunity to see reforms of the greater German constitution. However, Berlin had other desires: the voice of Alsatians had become to problematic, and calls for reform had infected other areas of the Reich (especially Catholic minorities). Wanting to limit the influence of Alsatian political culture in German politics, the Reich pushed for autonomy for the Reichsland.

Read part II

An unloved autonomy part II

Read Part I

The 1911 constitution was a disappointment. It provided autonomy for the province (except in military matters and foreign affairs, to which it deferred to the Hohenzollerns). Even though autonomy might have been an improvement for a people who were subjects of the empire, it did not satisfy their desire to influence the affairs of the empire. Alsace-Lorraine had limited representation in the Reichstag. It had not control over its votes in the federal council (in fact, their three votes would not be counted if they were needed to produce a majority—they could only be used to approve of non-controversial measures). The Reichsland failed to achieve parity with the other German states. Their drive for federalism was frustrated.

Worse than that, the 1911 constitution failed to make progress toward the republic. During talks over the reforms, some Alsatian representatives raised the question of whether the relationship with the imperial crown should be retained: should Berlin continue to appoint the head of government? It was argued that keeping close to the Hohenzollerns (while remaining independent of Prussia) might provide financial advantages. The public disapproved. However, reforms stalled.

A group of Alsatian politicians negotiated with Berlin in secret, compromising in a number of areas. The Statthalter was retained. Furthermore, a bicameral legislature was created, to which half of the legislators of the lower house (the senate in this case) were appointed by Berlin. The revelation of the compromise cause a scandal that humiliated the politicians (of course, they were appointed to the lower house), but it gave the Reich the votes it needed to push through the new constitution.

For the next seven years Alsatian politicians pushed for new reforms. Even though Alsatians had more freedom from the empire, autonomy was despised. During World War One, the prerogatives of Reichsland were limited by war powers acts—Germans stopped trusting Alsatians.

The constitution reform was seen as an area in which Alsatians could get some leeway. Ricklin, the president of the upper house, and other legislators promised that they would pledge complete loyalty to the Reich and reject any French claims to Alsace and Lorraine if federal reforms were put in place and peace negotiations began. Berlin did not listen until it was too late: in Summer 1918, the same politicians turned their backs on reforms proposed by Statthalter Schwander, saying that the fate of Alsace and Lorraine would be decided by the allies.

Coming out of the war Alsace had an established political culture. Republic and federation were the continuing drive. And despite the constitution issue, Alsatians had made progress by knitting together what rights they did win from the Reich: an assembly that had legislative powers independent from appointed prefects; budget authority; provincial ministries; the ability to adjust taxes for the needs of either enterprise or welfare. If the influence of French republicanism had made its way into Alsatian politics, some of the worst aspects had not: secularization and centralization. Indeed, there was a strong tendency to de-concentrate (not just decentralize) authority down to the lowest levels of government.

Alsatian political culture was put under strain as the territories were de-annexed to France. Foche had promised that Alsace-Lorraine would not be re-conquered. Alsatians had made progress of their own realizing the republic, and Foche realized that they had something to contribute to France. He called for fusion, a concept that intrigued Alsatians.

However, French republican culture could not tolerate federalism. France was one and indivisible. They insisted that reforms to the French system could not occur until Alsace-Lorraine had fully accepted the French constitution and law. Relations were at an impasse. Instead of reforms or reintegration, France took over the administration set up by Germany. The Berlin-appointed Statthalter was replaced by a Paris-appointed Commissaire-general. The legislature was reduced to an advisor body. The German system prevailed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Happy New Year!

Leshanah tovah tikateivu v'tikhateimu.

Outsourcing from the local perspective

Does it matter how we conceptualize globalization and its sorrows? Despite daily reports about low-tech jobs going to China and southeast Asia and hi-tech jobs going to India, globalization as an issue lacks valency--it moves the American public to anger, but not to action. There appear to be too many benefits to globalization that cannot be dismissed--is it not better to adapt as the benefits will come someday?

America is not the only nation that feels the pain of globalization. In France, offices and factories close up and move east, some to China and India, others to Eastern Europe and Morocco. This issue, however, has become more volatile in daily political discourse, and the French government has been compelled to act more quickly. Economic minister Nicolas Sarkozy and an inter-ministerial committee announced an 750 million euro investment plan to create "poles of competitiveness":

These poles, technological or industrial, are associated with enterprise, centers of education and research organizations that are synergistic.

In essence, rather than throwing money at the social problem in a general sense, the committee also defined the problem in term defining the relationship between industry and local resources. I believe that this proposal draws from the model of the European Spatial Development Perspective, which promotes creating access to the European market (and by extension, the global economy).

How the French public conceptualizes globalization may reveal why action was taken so quickly. Indeed, the problem of globalization is not as pressing as the public fears: it is estimated that about 5%-6% of jobs lost were due to globalization. What concerns the public is délocalisation--the flight of industry and employment from the local and the privation that it causes by displacing the local from the global. Job creation is insufficient if it requires people to relocate (especially to large cities where cheap housing is in short supply), if it disturbs the balance between urban and rural sectors, or if it disturbs the local culture. It's one thing to fear losing one's job if another may be around the corner; it is another to say that one's hometown will lose access to any future economic boom.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

MassMOCA part I

One of the exhibits at MassMOCA is New Negrotopia, an attempt to dissect racism via the soft-focus kitsch of theme park culture.

The exhibit, created by Tana Hargest, largely consists of products that one might expect to find at a souvenir store at Disneyland.

The exhibit is essentially a room made out of Plexiglas with brightly colored tableaus of nineteenth-century plantation life. Posted by Hello

Saturday, September 11, 2004

River Music Part I

MSNBC finished a twenty-two part look at life and culture along the Mississippi River. The half of the articles cover a wide range of topics that concern the entire river and its future. The other half are stories along the river itself at various stops from the Mississippi’s origins to the sea.

Rendition of proposed new lock.

The debate about the river’s future concerns whether further engineering is possible or desirable. The river has been the major means by which the Midwest has access to global commerce. This is still true on the upper Mississippi. Soybean farmers claim that new locks must be built in order to accommodate larger barges–failure to engineer the river will diminish their ability to compete. Other groups are more concerned with repairing environmental damage that had already been done. Depending on the group, they recommend either restrictions or programs that will restore the ecology. One group, American rivers, takes a compromise position: they recommend that traffic along the river should be administered in order to allow more barges to traverse its length.

Another article looks at the river as a political entity. It notes that the economies of the communities and states are linked together, and they experience the same boom and bust cycles. It argues that the Mississippi is a place of unique political environments, noting Robert Lafollette, Huey Long, and Jesse Ventura.

There is a wonderful article about finding the source inMinnesota: the unique geography makes identifying the correct lake difficult.

You follow it until you find a high-altitude body of water from which it emanates. But tracking down the headwaters of the Mississippi proved a daunting challenge for the early non-native explorers who ventured into the backwoods of Minnesota.

Part of the problem is that there isn’t a lot of elevation change in the headwaters region, according to Connie Cox, a naturalist at the Itasca State Park.

“(The river) starts in a region where there’s a lot of glacial sand hills … and the subtle changes in topography often confused these early explorers,” she said.

Their confusion was compounded by a reluctance to consult with the Indians, many of whom knew where the river originated, she said.

“The explorers were not familiar with the region and a lot of their early maps were very poorly drawn. And oftentimes they did not have good guides or interpreters with them to help show the way,” Cox said.
Other articles deal with Native American communities (Prairie Island Indians), Mormons, the archeology of an ancient city, Vickburg, and many other subjects. There are also numerous interviews.

Of course, the Mississippi has been linked to the birth of American music (especially jazz and blues) and is the site of great music cities. Oddly enough, Davenport gets the spotlight:
Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans are reliably linked to the provenance of the American sound, but you're not likely to hear the name of Davenport, Iowa, when the hothouses of American music are mentioned. What makes the town of 98,359 people such a fertile location for study of American music, though, is mostly a matter of being in the proverbial right place and time.

Davenport is a literal intersection of creative possibilities. “It's a crossroads,” said [Connie] Gibbons, [executive director of River Music Experience Museum, which opened in Davenport in June]. “There’s always been a large group of people here who are consumers of music. Several festivals are popular here.

“As musicians travel across the country, it's been a natural stopping point for musicians to stop and share what they're doing. As such it's a natural site for this museum. The community itself is undergoing a renasissance. There's a major art museum opening within a year. There are a lot of things going on that encompass the business element and the art, and it really represents a true renaissance.”

Yesterday my wife and I drove out to North Adams, a small town in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, to go to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMOCA). It was a wonderful day. (I will describe the exhibits in separate posts.)

North Adams in nestled between the mountains of the Appalachians. Indeed, it sits beneath one of the highest peaks in the northern part of the range, Mount Greylock. The buildings and houses are scattered on located on the small hills within this mini valley: the downtown area is at one of the lower levels in the center, the residential areas are elevated around it.

The arrangement of churches in the area is bizarre. There are six churches within two and a half blocks, each with its own distinct steeples. There is something odd about how they pierce the sky in such a concentration.  Posted by Hello

Friday, September 10, 2004

Extremism in Saxony

A recent poll by ZDF of the upcoming elections for the Saxon Landtag (state parliament) reveal some new dynamics in the politics of eastern Germany. The Christian Democrats (CDU) will probably maintain control of the parliament (47%). The left is represented by the "new Communists" (PDS) with 19%. The Social Democrats (SPD) was not popular in the last elections five years ago: they are still not popular (11%), but they have not lost any popularity due to proposed reforms to social programs by Schroeder. The Greens receive a respectable 6%.

If all these numbers reflect established trends in Saxon politics, the growing popularity of the NPD (neo-Nazi party) is disturbing. Receiving 1.5% in 1999, the ZDF poll shows that the neo-Nazi's may win 9% of the vote.

Saxon President Georg Milbradt has called for voters to come out in large numbers in order to keep the neo-Nazis out of the parliament. If there were a NPD member of parliament, foreign investment would be in danger:
If there is a neo-Nazi in the parliament I would have to give up traveling to the United States, where I find most of the investments for Saxony.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Veils remain in Strasbourg

The law against wearing veils in French classrooms is not being enforced in Strasbourg. Because Alsace has unique rules about teaching religion in schools, some school officials feel that it is inappropriate to deny religious freedoms that other Alsatian students enjoy.

Alsace does not fall under the secularization laws of 1907 like the rest of France. At the time the laws were written Alsace was part of Germany. Bismarck and the German authorities had decided decades before to renew the Concordat that Napoleon had signed with the Papacy that allowed Catholics, Protestants and Jews to be taught religion in state-run schools. After réunion with France, Alsatians fought to keep religious education in schools--a right that was finally recognized in the 1950s. Ever since religious education has been a unique privilege that Alsace enjoys that other régions do not.

The school officials do not feel that they can act against veils because of the tradition of religious education. Islam is not taught in Alsatian schools (like other religions). However, officials do not feel they can act against the veils because the presence of religion is tolerated in schools. Furthermore, the local Muslim community feels that the issue of the veil can be used as an opening to introduce instruction of Islam into schools.
En raison du statut scolaire local, qui n'englobe pas l'islam, les élèves musulmans n'ont en effet pas cours de religion, à la différence de leurs camarades des cultes catholique, luthérien, réformé et juif. La situation peut-elle évoluer ... en préconisant un enseignement de la religion optionnel pour tous ?
So far 80 of the 100-120 cases in which girls have refused to uncover themselves are in Alsace. The French government got a temporary reprieve last week when two French reporters were taken hostage in Iraq. French Muslims, not wanting to be the pawns of international terrorism, have temporarily complied with the prohibition on veils in schools.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Cassini: Rings are remants of Secessionist Moons!

Just wanted to laugh at my own preoccupations and post a cool picture from the Cassini probe around Saturn.

Saturn's Rings, Cold and Colder
September 2, 2004

The varying temperatures of Saturn's rings are depicted here in this false-color image from the Cassini spacecraft.

This image represents the most detailed look to date at the temperature of Saturn's rings. The image was made from data taken by Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer instrument.

The data show that the opaque region of the rings, like the outer A ring (on the far right) and the middle B ring, are cooler, while more transparent sections, like the Cassini Division (in red just inside the A ring) or the inner C ring (shown in yellow and red), are relatively warmer.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Full Panic Mode

[Aside: I wrote this last night, but Blogger did not let me post it until now]

Oh no! Oh no! Chip and Kim will be in last next week. Oh G-d! They could lose.

Calm down--all the teams end up either on the same flights or waiting in line for some attraction to open up. They can catch up.

But they made so many mistakes! It's the end! They missed the turn off on the highway, and they did not force the twins to yield. It's over! Game over!

It's not over. They did not need the yield against the twins, and they can use a yield in the next episode.

But it is used! Someone uses the yield against Chip and Kim!

Who knows.? They were nice to everyone, so they have a lot of good will. Colin and Christie are more threatening. Besides, was that a black arm reaching into the yield box?

B...B...B...ut even the Moms are ahead.

The previews show Colin throwing a fit. This might be the moment for which we have waited.

They're doomed!!!!!!!!!!!!

Next week, don't wait for the episode to begin to open that bottle of wine. Start an hour early ... and keep a spare.

The Place of Moby Dick

The travel section of the NY Times has an article about Herman Melville's experiences in Western Massachusetts. He wrote Moby Dick at a farmhouse in the Bershires, an area where many New Yorkers set up summer homes. During the mid and late nineteenth century there was an intense literary scene in the area that included Holmes and Hawthorne.

After meeting Hawthorne, Melville purchased Arrowhead, a 1780 farmhouse in Pittsfield about 15 miles north of Monument Mountain, now a half-hour drive north on Route 7 to Holmes Road. Though distant from the ocean, the Berkshires had an enormous influence on the author, who was pleased with the "sea-feeling" of his country home in winter. He wrote Duyckinck: "I look out of my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of a port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship's cabin; & at nights when I wake up & hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, and I had better go on the roof and rig in the chimney." Even today, on certain stretches of road, the Berkshires rise up like imposing swells in a heavy sea.

During his first year at Arrowhead, Melville obsessed over a whale — most of "Moby-Dick" was written there — but he started his day feeding livestock, giving breakfast to his horse and cutting pumpkins for his cow, "for it's a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws — she does it so mildly & with such a sanctity." After breakfast, he lighted the fire in his study, perhaps stirring up memories of his whaling days with a harpoon poker that still leans against the stone hearth.

"Moby-Dick" was dedicated to that other monumental influence over Melville during his Berkshires residence — Hawthorne. The two authors spent hours in the loft above Arrowhead's barn, away from the noises of the family. At the time, Hawthorne lived in the Little Red House on the Stockbridge-Lenox boundary, writing "The House of Seven Gables." He described the autumnal view of Monument Mountain as a "headless sphinx, wrapt in a rich Persian shawl." The sphinx remains, though the "luscious sunshine" off the chestnut trees has since been lost to blight.

The article describes other interesting sites in the area.

Rebels against Genocide in Darfur

Washington Post has an article on SLA rebels in Darfur (western Sudan) who are fightin against the genocide being committed by the militias. While groups like these try to protect suffering, they are often treated as part of the problem rather than the solution. They can even be villified for their techniques, sometime criminal. Such was the case with Kagame's army of Tutsi and the KLA in Kosovo.
Less attention has been devoted to the SLA rebels, who said they started the conflict to defend the rights of Darfur's African tribes but now preside over corners of acute suffering and desperation on the frontiers of Africa's largest country.

A week spent traveling through rebel-held areas showed the SLA to be an ill-equipped, untrained and disorganized group, with child fighters among its ragtag ranks. Its grand ambitions are not matched by its resources. The only thing the rebels don't seem to be lacking is motivation.

"Give us 500 cars with mounted machine guns and we'll take Khartoum in one month," proclaimed Bahar Ibrahim, a top adviser in the SLA's political wing, referring to Sudan's capital. A graying wisp of man, Ibrahim said over sugary tea at a base camp in the town of Bahai that he admired the ferocity of American action movies and spaghetti westerns. "We can act like that," he said. ...

... SLA leaders speak with ferocity about the Arab government in Khartoum, which they say has discriminated against generations of black Africans. They see themselves as heroes defending the lives of tribal members who have not fled to disease-ridden camps that the government runs.

SLA leaders, like the commanders of the Janjaweed, refuse to silence their guns. Peace talks in Nigeria between SLA rebels and the government stalled last week, as the sides argued over who scuttled attempts at a cease-fire.

... The rebels control a vast countryside where an estimated 130,000 civilians are beyond the reach of food and medical aid that those in the government-held areas are slowly receiving. ...

Aid groups say they believe there are tens of thousands of people struggling to survive in rebel areas, sealed off from aid. The government will not permit aid agencies to travel into rebel-held areas, arguing that the SLA will steal the food. The U.N. food agency has recently been granted access by rebel groups to study the needs in the region, entering through Chad or circumventing government troops.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

E lapin isch e haâs

Claude Vigée (of whom I just wrote) describes in great detail the difficulties present in learning French in Alsace in the decades of the réunions (reintegration after annexation by Germany). Vigée lived in a naturally multilingual environment in which he spoke both Allemanisch (the dialect of Alsace, hereafter Alsatian) and Judeo-Alsatian. Forced to learn French, Vigée was sent into a linguistic and semiotic crisis in his childhood in which he became uncertain of words and language.

The northern Alsatian town of Bischwiller was fairly isolated, even for Alsace. The natural language was Alsatian dialect. People spoke French in fragments. They colored their conversations in Alsatian with elements of French:
after three world of ‘welsh’ [what Alsatians called Frenchmen who came from the interior and their language] we returned to dialect, which constituted our natural linguistic foundations.
For the most part, dialect was uniquely useful: words were tailored to the realities of the Alsatian world, they described that world with precision and specificity.

His earliest school memories were filled with fragments of French. Most of the instructors addressed students in dialect. What Vigée learned were songs, stories and other types of ritual recitations. He and his fellow children could sing these without ever knowing, or feeling, the meaning of the French words. The meaning of these texts were known because they were so often repeated, perhaps in the same manner that the meaning of Latin prayers are popularly known. None of the French that he learned by rote became active in daily speech. Throughout his youth Vigée expressed himself in dialect, “far from the domain of words.”

At age six Vigée’s teachers were determined to teach French to the students.
After some laborious efforts Mademoiselle Zimmermann announced to us, in dialect, that we were now going to learn French. We opened an illustrated book that showed a pretty rabbit running, and she said to us: ‘E lapin isch e haâs.
The teacher’s attempt to equate a new word to an animal that Vigée already knew caused a crisis:
Bischwiller was situated practically inside a rabbit warren. Behind the Christian cemetery extended a lovely pine forest where we went to play every Thursday afternoon. A group of rabbits ran around the town. This is what they taught us to be the true name of the ‘haâs’–‘lapin’. But for us the secret name of the rabbit remained ‘haâs’.
The crisis went beyond the simple relationship between the word ‘rabbit’ and the animal. Everything became a problem for the young students. They had to cope with relearning a world that was already familiar to them, but in a language that was more abstract that Alsatian:
What is a ‘true name’? Is there such thing as a ‘true name’? Brutally confronted with this difficulty of the metaphysical order, rebuked by the problem of the relationship between the cosmos and the word, we had been placed in an earlier stage of psychological development. We always knew the name of this animal that we saw running through the fields. Lo and behold it had two names ... a doubt arose over the names of people and things.

Without knowing it or wanting it, we were close to obsession, caused precisely by the general doubt on the value and reality of words.
Vigée described this crisis of language as “forced aphasia.”

High school presented new problems and conflicts. Vigée had teachers who had been embittered by their own linguistic conundrums. His teachers were mostly in their forties–they had their own education in German during the period that Alsace was part of the empire. They knew only rudimentary elements of French. Because of their weak French they were forced to teach in rural schools by order of the ministry of education. One teacher had been a professor at the University of Strasbourg.

In their frustration, these teachers enlisted the unknowing students in their battles over language. They made certain that the students spoke French with distinctly German inflections (saying ‘Sche’ instead of ‘Je’ (I), ‘fous’ instead of ‘vous’ (you).) Nevertheless, the students made progress:
Young, premature 'fuckheads', fighting valiantly against our native frontier transformation, prohibited from words by the caprices of our own history, we slowly learned the basics of the French language.
Vigée notes that one teacher, a Breton who married an Alsatian woman, learned the local dialect with great enthusiasm: not only was it a courtesy to locals, he saw it as an expression of fraternity between two peripheral regions.

These experiences in early life gave Vigée an unique view of language. He quickly realized that Alsatian was a dead end: it would not be useful outside of Alsace, and Frenchmen would not respect him for it. Learning French meant survival. But even decades after leaving Alsace, Vigée finds that he expresses himself best in dialect. Because he had to learn French in this manner, Vigée came to realize that the world was full of languages, all of which being “mysterious domains, kingdoms apart, but also abysses that I could slide over.”

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Jewish Life in Alsace

Claude Vigée is a Jewish poet who was born in northern Alsace in 1921. During the Nazi occupation, he was active in the Jewish resistance in Toulouse. However, he went into exile in the United States. He earned a doctorate and taught Romance languages. He even taught at Brandeis for eleven years. Eventually, he migrated to Israel where he taught at Hebrew University. Oddly enough, he migrated back to France, where he has lived in Paris since 2001.

Vigée combines reflections on Alsace with those of Judaism in his poetry. Like Yvan Goll, he uses the two to capture interesting features of Alsatian identity--the "in betweenness" that is so difficult to grasp. His linguistic sensibilities could only be described as regionally unique.
That language that we still spoke at home was Judeo-Alsatian, a dialect that is much older than the Yiddish, a dialect derived from medieval Rhenish German and mixed with corrupted Hebrew.

All that changed as country Jews rapidly immigrated to the towns and cities. My parents frequently spoke French, but with servants and clients we "fell back on Alsatian" and, with Jews, we greeted each other with rare vestiges of Judeo-Alsatian. We rarely expressed ourselves in French in a continuous manner; French was mostly the "Sunday language"

At school the dictates of French reigned; German was treated with the same hostility as they were to Alsatian dialect.

High German was taught in the high school like a foreign language. Classical German did not exist naturally. There were only dialects that were called "German".
Vigée has some popularity in France as a writer of regional literature, something remarkable in itself. His works include a novel written in Alsatian dialect. He has actively translated literature from many languages. Most of his poems are in French.

I have been taking quick glances at Le Parfum et la Cendre, a book that Vigée wrote as a reflection of various aspects of his career and life. They appear as self-interviews, Vigée questioning himself and answering his own difficult questions. I translated a biographical excerpt from the book, something that describes Jewish life in Alsace as he experienced. I don't plan any analysis of Vigée's work in the near future, but I find some of his reflections compelling.
I came from a Jewish Alsatian family of the middle class that was very assimilated. My mother’s parents were of modest origins–in fact, they were villagers. It is interesting to note how many of these country Jews in Alsace were not concerned with Zionism, especially since their ancestors were profoundly Jewish (as well as the education that they received). They remained naively rural in their customs. As for my father’s family, they left the country milieu in the 1790s. My mother’s family came to Bischwiller just after the end of the 18th century and became respectable bourgeoisie after the fall of Napoleon I.

Primitive religious sentiments had disappeared by the time I was a child. They were not replaced by Zionism. However, the members of my family remained conscious of being Jewish. These memories were a bit dull, but they survived in a strange fashion: in the family customs that were different from those of the gentiles around us. We were, I think, Jewish because we were neither Catholic nor Protestant in a milieu that was either Catholic or Protestant. Partially emancipated from the synagogue, we were moreover agnostic and confused ... .

In the small towns certain people filled blue boxes for Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel [note: these boxes were used to collect funds for Jewish settlement in Palestine]. However these donation boxes held no deep ideological significance in our eyes. In my father’s house there were never any blue boxes. We saw them in the homes of other Jews who were less assimilated and who observed the mitzvot [commandments] more scrupulously than we. Every year we were dispatched into the streets of Bischwiller by Rabbi Lehmann (who was himself anti-Zionist) in order to empty these blue boxes. For our efforts people gave us “Purim fritters”. The life of most of these families was picturesque. For me it was an opportunity to cast an eye at the interior life of Jews where they lived according to the rhythms of ancient times.

In Strasbourg there were groups of intellectuals who were very active in Zionism. At the time, they dominated high society. Before the rabbi, all the officers of the community, all the members of the Consistory, all the prominent members of the society were certainly not Zionists. Such was French Judaism. Up until the Second World War, Jews were slow and hesitant to recognize the historical realities of the Jewish nation in the modern era. French Jews vied with each other in their zeal to assimilate. Zionism risked making a failure out of the process of assimilation and releasing a last rush of Jewish identity among these pale and distant children of Jacob. Behind this fatal desire to believe in assimilation a need for basic self-confidence was disguised, an absence of respect for the spiritual heritage of Israel.

Read part II: E lapin isch e haâs.